Opinion | LBGTQIA+ inclusive sex education is needed

Gracie Fleischman Opinions Editor

Depending on where you’re from and what school district you attended, you might have gone through mandatory sex education in middle school. No matter when or where, it’s likely that we all had the universally uncomfortable experience of learning about sex in a room full of our peers.

Luckily for me, by the time my seventh grade science teacher taught us state-regulated lesson plans that ranged from detailing how an egg is fertilized to showing the class a ‘70s-era birth video, my parents had already told me about “the birds and the bees.”

Not every kid is as lucky as I was. For many, the nonspecific and heteronormative sex education provided by public schools is the first they are hearing of this important and life-altering information.

In some states, like Arkansas, state law mandates that sex be referred to as a “marital activity” and categorizes abstinence as the only form of birth control.

Only 12 states require sex education to be inclusive of all sexual orientations, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and of those states, three require information about the LGBTQIA+ community to be negative.

In January 2016, the California Healthy Youth Act was enacted. The law requires school districts in the state to ensure that all pupils from grades seven to 12 to receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV-prevention education.

The act also includes mandates on teaching positive information about all gender expressions and sexualities, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual and other identities, which were previously ignored and glossed over in California’s sex education requirements.

After the act was passed, there was a collective uproar from many conservatives and Republicans that represent local school districts. Because of this, at least three Orange County Board of Education members voted to hold a forum to discuss their concerns.

Ken Williams, the president of the board, and members Mari Barke and Lisa Sparks, who is the dean of Chapman’s School of Communication, supported the Sept. 26 forum and invited many anti-LGBTQ panelists to attend, according to the Orange County Register.

Laura Haynes, a Tustin therapist and advocate of gay conversion therapy, Stan Weed, a pro-abstinence researcher and Nada Higuera, a pro-life attorney who works at a law firm that is fighting against a bill that would outlaw marketing gay conversion therapy were among the speakers invited, according to the Orange County Register.

With a lineup like that, it’s no wonder many allies and members of the LGBTQIA+ community were concerned enough to protest the forum.

I’m disappointed, too. To me, it seems that teaching children factual information about their bodies and sexualities in our school system is crucial.

Nearly 30 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth attempt suicide at least once a year, compared to 6 percent of heterosexual youth. LGBTQIA+ students are also 140 percent more likely to miss school than their heterosexual peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Maybe if children were given medically and scientifically accurate information about their sexualities and gender identities from an early age, acceptance and allyship for LGBTQIA+ students would increase. The California Healthy Youth Act has the potential to totally change the way young people think about their bodies.

The bill also mandates that schools educate students about California’s Affirmative Consent Standard, which teaches that affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement is necessary to engage in sexual activity. After Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it’s clear that we need to be teaching people about consent from an early age – and this is a good start.

The bill also teaches the differences between healthy and abusive relationships and provides  information about local health resources for sexual and reproductive healthcare. Unlike some states, California’s HIV prevention education makes it clear that anyone can contract it and that medical testing is the only way to know if you’re HIV positive. The bill also says that sex education must apply to students of all sexualities, meaning that schools will teach non-heteronormative safe sex methods.

The bill also mandates that schools educate students about California’s Affirmative Consent Standard, which teaches that affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement is necessary to engage in sexual activity. After Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation Oct. 6, it’s clear that we need to teach people about consent from an early age – and this is a good start.

The fact that some people are calling this bill “satanic,” as one counterprotester at the Sept. 26 rally did, and saying that the people supporting it are “perverts” is shameful. Teaching all students medically accurate and affirming information about sexuality and gender is a basic right that should have been mandated a long time ago.

All children deserve to learn about their bodies in a positive environment that doesn’t shame them before they even have a chance to explore and grow.